Fighting the fear

Bonny Warner, a three-time luge Olympian and a United Airlines pilot, knew one of the United crew members killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that rocked the world. Her husband, Tony Simi, is a firefighter in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Although stung in many ways by the long-reaching tentacles of tragedy, Warner won’t allow fear to control her life. Ending a sabbatical she had taken to train for the Salt Lake City Games, where she hopes to participate in the first women’s Olympic bobsled competition, Warner took to the skies last week to reposition 737s and reopen service to West Coast cities that were isolated when the national air traffic system was shut down after the attacks.

"When that happened, like all Americans, I was horrified and I wanted to do something," Warner said of her return to the cockpit, where she has 11 1/2 years of experience. "When the FAA and the airlines started putting things back together, I made an assessment based on information I was privy to as a flight crew member.

"United has 11,000 pilots, and you can say, ‘What is one pilot going to do?’ I’m very visible. My phone was ringing off the hook, not just from media but business people and friends. Actions speak louder than words, and if I’m not flying, what does that say?"

Warner said so many off-duty United pilots volunteered for duty, the phone lines and e-mail to United’s crew desk were flooded. "That’s a huge statement," she said. "It’s not just me. It’s just your basic line pilots. It shows the faith we have."

Warner, 39, also has faith she will be safe from terrorist attacks at Salt Lake City. If guaranteeing safety requires a pervasive police presence, she deems that an acceptable price.

"I think what has happened has heightened everyone’s consciousness of security. Not just security people and military people, but every American,” said Warner, one of three bobsled drivers vying for two spots on the U.S. team. "This has galvanized millions of eyes to look for suspicious things. It’s like a neighborhood watch system that in itself adds enormous amounts of security.

"Before this happened (Salt Lake Organizing Committee President) Mitt Romney had headed to Washington to ask for more money for security. That won’t be a problem now.

"Every Olympics since Munich we always worry and wonder because it is such a central point. Now, everybody will be aware of everything. I remember at Nagano, the Japanese didn’t want to show an overwhelming presence and they had their security people dress in Olympic uniforms. That’s changed. I’m sure the people attending will not be upset to see people wearing police or security uniforms."

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Title: Fighting the fear | Author: Helene Elliott | Section: Sports | Published Date: 2001-09-26 | Internal ID: 2124